Ex-Prosecutor Quits Investigation of Care Facility Rape

March 1, 2019 Updated: March 1, 2019

PHOENIX—A former top Phoenix prosecutor said on March 1 he resigned from an internal investigation of a health care facility, where an incapacitated woman was raped and later gave birth, out of concern for the organization’s leadership.

Nearly two months after being hired by Hacienda HealthCare to investigate how a patient was sexually assaulted, former Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley terminated his contract. Several senior Hacienda staff members and a longtime board director have also resigned.

“When I started this assignment, I made it very clear if I was not able to conduct my work with complete objectivity and, if any issue came up that caused me any concerns, I would terminate my contract,” Romley said.

Romley said his issues were with Hacienda’s board of directors but declined to elaborate. He also could not share details from the partially completed review because it involved records that belonged to Hacienda. It was unclear whether anyone will resume the investigation he started.

Romley said he believes several employees who quit would return if an entirely new board was appointed.

“If they really cared about the patients and the organization, they would consider resigning,” he said.

Hacienda spokesman David Leibowitz did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The facility’s embattled operators agreed in February to be regulated by the state. They initially planned to close down the unit altogether after an agreement with new third-party managers fell apart.

Patrick Ptak, Gov. Doug Ducey’s spokesman, said Arizona Department of Health Services employees have been monitoring the facility on-site. Multiple resignations this week should not affect patient care, he said.

Hacienda has undergone massive upheaval since a 29-year-old patient gave birth on Dec. 29, 2018 to the shock of employees. The facility’s CEO has stepped down, a doctor dismissed and another suspended from providing medical services there.

Phoenix police launched a criminal investigation that led to the arrest of Nurse Nathan Sutherland. Investigators said DNA from Sutherland, 36, matched a sample taken from the newborn. He has pleaded not guilty to sexual assault and vulnerable adult abuse.

The facility has since bolstered security measures. This includes installing dozens of cameras and monitors, enhancing security and retraining every staff member on identifying and reporting abuse and neglect.

The situation started on Dec. 29, 2018. Nurses at the Hacienda facility called 911, saying they were shocked to see a patient they did not even know was pregnant and giving birth, with a dispatcher and paramedics helping them through the stressful process.

The 29-year-old Native American mother was living in the facility for decades after a near-drowning incident at the age of 4 left her unable to move freely or speak. Initial reports described her as being in a vegetative state but the family’s lawyer later corrected that description.

NTD Reporter Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.

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